Tag Archives: explicit teaching

flash fiction kept in the dark

Kept in the dark

Have you ever engaged in an experiment to see how bean seeds grow when kept in the dark compared to how they grow when provided with sunlight? It’s an experiment familiar to many school children. The purpose of the experiment is to show that light is needed for the seeds to grow and children soon find that those kept in the dark do not thrive.

My father used to say that what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you. He wasn’t happy when my brother wrote in my autograph book that what you don’t know doesn’t do you much good either.

what you don't know won't do you much good either

© Norah Colvin

Although my parents were keen for my siblings and me to get a good education, there were some things about which they preferred to keep us in the dark — secret adult things. It seems they thought some knowledge might be dangerous, so they were selective in what we were told.

I am of the opposite view, thinking that a lack of knowledge may be even more dangerous. Just as bean seeds don’t thrive in the dark, minds can’t thrive if kept in the dark either.

Nowadays, in schools, there is an emphasis on the need for being explicit in our teaching, of making sure that children know what they will be learning, what is expected of them and why.

In my childhood days, if a reason was given, it was often ‘Because I said so’ or ‘Because it is’. I much prefer the modern way and, as with many things, believe that knowledge begets knowledge. It is difficult to be interested in something about which you know nothing. But knowing, even just a little, can stimulate curiosity to know more.

I have written about this belief before in posts such as Child’s play —the science of asking questions, Visioning a better school, a better way of educating, and Reflect and refine, to name but a few.

Into the dark flash fiction prompt at the Carrot Ranch

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills wrote about the darkness we feel when we’ve lost our guiding star, or when the spark of creativity has dimmed. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “into the dark.” What must a character face? Write about an encounter, journey, relationship, or quest. Follow the ship’s lights on gloomy seas. Go where the prompt leads you.

Funnily enough, the prompt took me to neither darkness of the mind nor heart, but to the literal darkness of a stormy night. I hope you enjoy it.

Stepping into the unfamiliar

The car lights dimmed as she reached the door – timed perfectly. But, when the porch light didn’t activate, immersing her in total darkness, she cursed the storm. As she pushed the door of the still unfamiliar house, she rummaged for her phone. Dang! No charge. She inched along the wall, fingers seeking the corner and toes the step she knew was close. Stepping down, she dumped her bag and tossed her saturated scarf. She edged towards the sideboard and a battery-powered candelabra. As she fumbled for the switch, the room was flooded with light and cheers of ‘Happy housewarming!’

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Hear ye! Hear ye! Read all about it!

This week over at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is ripped from the headlines. Look at local, regional or global news.

Now if there is one thing I have noticed about “the news” over the years, it’s that the news reported in the media is generally bad. Often the stories are meant to alarm or frighten. I think it must be easier to control a population through fear. A little scaremongering may go a long way.

Although the song is called It’s Good News Week, it doesn’t have much good news to tell.

I selected a few headlines (expressly for my purpose) from a recent Conversation:

  • The role of water in Australia’s uncertain future
  • The scariest part of climate change isn’t what we know, but what we don’t
  • Stop, go back, the NDIS board shake-up is going the wrong way
  • We’re overdosing on medicine – it’s time to embrace life’s uncertainty
  • Australians less likely to survive home ownership than Britons

“They” can do it with Education too:

  • Is your child less likely to be bullied in a private school?
  • Uni drop-out rates show need for more support, not capped enrolments
  • The slide of academic standards in Australia: a cautionary tale
  • The absurdity of English spelling and why we’re stuck with it

F

All of these headlines state the existence of a situation or condition as irrefutable, like falling standards and failing students. I’m sure most of you will be familiar with headlines such as this one from the Conversation nearly two years ago:

Lost for words: why the best literacy approaches are not reaching the classroom

In this article Misty Adoniou attributes the failure of some Australian children on national and international literacy tests to their lack of exposure and experience with standard English – they do not speak standard or “school” English at home. Adoniou says that is up to teachers to improve the language used by students and to make their understanding of correct usage explicit. However she says that many teachers do not have an explicit understanding of English and, as a result, are unable to teach it to their students.

 

I’m not sure how true that statement is. However, what I do like about this article is the advice Adoniou gives about teaching. She says that “all our teaching about language must be done in context and in the course of achieving real outcomes.” I couldn’t agree more.

Daily news – learning in context

In fact, from their first weeks of school I was explicitly teaching students about language and literacy using a strategy I borrowed and developed from the ubiquitous “show and tell”. I called this strategy simply “News”, and found it to be a powerful tool for teaching the skills of both reading and writing.

Its strength came from the familiar context, the connection to children’s lives and the importance it placed upon them. The teaching could be adjusted to suit different stages of development, to reinforce learning for some and extend the learning of others. For me, as teacher, it was a powerful learning tool. I was able to gauge children’s developing strategies, understand their needs and identify next steps for learning.

How it worked

Talk

A few children each day would have the opportunity to share their item of interest or “news” with the class. Class mates could ask for additional information or clarification if they wished.

Compose

We (teacher and children) would collaboratively compose a report, initially just one or two sentences, of what had been shared.

Write

I would model the composition and the writing process, rehearsing what to write while involving children in thinking about what to write and how to write it. How much they were involved, and the detail of language and skills discussed could be easily adjusted to suit their development.  There was always ample practice and repetition, in a meaningful context, for children who needed more time; and discussion of strategies and ideas to extend the most advanced students.

Some of the writing strategies children were learning include:

  • Composition or rehearsal before writing
  • Directionality of writing
  • Translating conversational language into written language
  • Changing first person spoken text into third person written text
  • Identifying letters used to spell the sounds of language
  • Awareness of punctuation
  • Tenses, past and future, depending on what the children shared
  • Rereading to ensure message is correct and what to write next
  • Proofreading and editing
  • Identifying the main idea through choosing a suitable headline

Read

After the news was written, we would read it together to ensure it was correct and the child was happy with the way the news had been reported.

The text could then be used for developing a number of reading skills, for example:

  • Recognising words by sight
  • Noticing similarities in spellings, or differences in spelling of words with similar sounds
  • Punctuation and its effect on reading
  • Comprehension and grammar: who, what, where, when, and (sometimes) why
  • Reading with expression

Share

Each day I would print up the news for the children to take home to share with their family. It was a great first reading experience – about them, their friends and their families.

While this is only a brief overview of the strategy, the learning that can take place using children’s own language is obvious. Used as one small part of a rich literacy focused and literature-based classroom environment it is a powerful teaching tool. One day I will explain the strategy in detail so that others can use it too.

Flash fiction

But back to the headlines and Charli’s challenge.

Over recent years I have noticed an increased use of ambiguity in headlines and the introduction of (attempted) literary expressions into the body of articles. I have drawn on that for my flash. I hope it works.

 

Bridge plans in jeopardy

She scrolled through the headlines, searching …

Minister passes over bridge in favour of tunnel

Minister fails to dig himself out of tunnel fiasco

searching …

Minister reveals hand on bridge impasse

Minister’s tunnel vision blocks bridge improvement

searching …

Minister jumps from bridge over tunnel plans

Talks with Minister over bridge collapse

searching …

Bridge closure forces Minister’s hand

She was sure she had heard something … it must be here … why couldn’t she see it?

Scrolling … scrolling …

“Finally,” she sighed.

Bridge players wanted, Tunnel Street Community Hall, Wednesdays 10 am!

 

A Day in the Life

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.